If you are familiar with some of the basic social media platforms that teens are using like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, there is one that you may not have heard about, the VSCO app. Every mobile photography enthusiast knows what VSCO is. It’s a photo-editing and sharing app that grew a cult-following for its state of the art editing tools and aesthetically pleasing filters. Its users can upload their own pictures on the platform where it could be seen by other users from all over the world. It is marketed as a creative outlet for those who has a passion for the digital visual arts. On the surface, VSCO seems all fun and innocent, but there is more to it than what meets the eye.
Is VSCO safe for children? There’s a reason why it was given an app store rating of 12+. Just like any other apps on the internet, VSCO could leave your kids vulnerable to child predators and vulgar media if you let them use it without supervision. For starters, the app shares the location where your pictures are taken by default. Unless your kid knows how to turn this feature off, this could make them a target of creeps and stalkers. Privacy controls are also slim to none. There is no way for you to make your account private. Anyone who’s also using the app can follow you and see all the things that you post. There is an “Explore” feature where you can see pictures from random users, even those you don’t follow. Since VSCO gives its users the freedom to upload their own content, the “Explore” feature could expose your children to some suggestive and inappropriate photos. Its app store rating included warnings for “Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence”, “Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References”, and “Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes”. Other users could post pictures depicting such topics, passing it off as an “aesthetic” without regards
Here are the things that you need to be wary off when using VSCO:
- Location Sharing
This app automatically shares the location where you took your photo. Once this piece of information lands to the evil hands your child’s safety and security could be compromised.
- Limited Privacy
There is no option that gives the user the power to control the people that could follow them. All accounts are public and available for other users to follow. All the pictures that are published on the site are also accessible to other people. They can choose to save and re-publish it on their own “collection”.
- Exposure to Suggestive Content
When your child is on the internet, they are more susceptible to outside influences that could affect them negatively. Being in VSCO is no exception. In its app store rating, warnings against “Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence”, “Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References”, and “Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes” were included. Due to the fact that VSCO is a user-based application where its audience are free to upload and publish their own content, coming across images that portray such themes are inevitable. During their stay on the app, they could see off-color pictures ranging from photos of people vaping or drinking to people scantily clad in clothes that leave nothing for the imagination.
- In-app purchases
VSCO boasts a vast variety of presets that its users could use when editing their photos. Some of them are free while some of them are not. Now, in-app purchases aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s a common thing for a lot of mobile applications out there to offer their more advanced services in exchange for a monthly subscription or premium membership. It’s understandable for photography aficionados to want to spend their money bring the quality of their images up to a notch. However, this could be a problem for parents with very curious children. When left on their own, kids might mess around and unknowingly shell out a couple bucks just for a pretty filter.
VSCO does have a messaging capability. This is a newer function in 2019. Its not as robust as Snapchat but there is certainly a potential for inappropriate messages and conversation if you weren’t paying attention.
Although using this app has some risks, it isn’t all that bad. After all, it wasn’t purposefully made to be an app to prey on kids. It was made for artistic and creative expression. So before you go around banning your children from ever using it again, you need to understand that there are reasons why your kids are drawn to VSCO. Below are some of them:
- Its features:
- Its uncomplicated but remarkable photo capturing and editing elements makes it easier for amateurs to test the waters of photography. The app lets you play with the saturation, temperature, tint, contrast, etc. of your photos. VSCO also offers a variety of presets, from soft and pastel filters to dark and grungy ones.
- Its environment.
As part of the app description says, “Beautiful imagery trumps social clout.” In order to ensure that its users are posting pictures to express and not to impress, they decided to stay away from Instagram’s “clout culture”. In VSCO, there are no visible indicators for one’s number of followers, likes, and comments. Only the poster themselves can see how many people followed them or liked their photos. With other social media sites, likes and followers could be interpreted as some form of validation. Receiving no likes and having no followers could genuinely discourage someone from posting the things that they want to post. This fear of flopping is something that VSCO users don’t have to worry about. Whether anyone liked their photo or not, no one will ever know but them. This way, users are posting less for the clout and more for the art.
In order to let your child enjoy the good side of VSCO without running the risks of being endangered by bad people, there are some things that you need to address before giving them the greenlight. Here are some tips that you could give them to ensure that they’re as safe as possible while using the app:
- Make sure that they don’t include their location when publishing their photos.
They can turn off this default feature by going to the Settings. The Settings could be accessed by clicking on the circular button at the bottom of your screen. Once you’re already in there, click on Privacy. On the Privacy page, deselect everything under “Keep location data” and “Share location data when exporting”. This will make sure that your kids’ whereabouts when taking and uploading pictures are not brought out into the open for potential predators to see.
- Don’t give out personal and sensitive information.
This advice could be applicable to every site on the internet, not just VSCO. Handing out your personal information on the internet could put you in jeopardy in more ways than one. It could leave you defenseless from identity theft, hackers, phishers, smishers, and a couple more threats. In VSCO, users are required to give their username and email when signing up. Of the two, only the username are visible to other users. One way to protect their identity in VSCO is to leave out their real name when creating their username. They can also control what they show on their profile. All they have to do is by tap on the smiley face at the bottom right of their screen to go to their Profile. Next, they should click on the green “Edit” just below their profile title. This would give them the opportunity to change their profile name, profile photo, title, description, first name, last name, and email address.
- Report inappropriate content.
Encountering risqué pictures while using VSCO is inevitable, but your kids can help in taking these down to make the community as clean as possible. All they need to do is click on the image that they consider inappropriate, tap on the three dots that would appear on the top right corner of their screen afterwards choose the “Report Image” option.
- Block the other users that bother them.
If there’s somebody from the app that makes your child feel uncomfortable, they have the option to block that user and prohibit them from ever interacting with them and their posts again. They can do this by going to the profile of the user that they want to block and clicking the three dots on the upper right corner of their screen and choosing the “Block” option. However, keep in mind that blocking a user won’t prevent others from seeing their photos that they published since VSCO profiles are public. Still, it would hold others off from following, saving their images, and publishing their images to one’s collections.
- Don’t buy anything without parent’s permission.
It’s important that you stress this to your kids if you don’t want them to accidentally blow all your money off on in-app purchases. You can also set up certain restrictions on your own devices to prevent this from happening. For iOS users, you can do this by opening your Settings, going to the General Category, clicking on Restrictions, enabling it and creating a password. Make sure that you go for a password that couldn’t be easily guessed by anyone but you. Afterwards, look for the “Allowed Content” section and set the “In-App Purchases” to “Off”. You could also set the “Require Password” to “Immediately” to make sure that every in-app purchase performed using your device must be confirmed by a password to push through. For Android users, you could manipulate your settings so that a PIN is needed to be entered before they can purchase anything using the device. All you have to do is open the Google Play Store, click on the Menu, select Settings, and look for the “User Controls” section. Under that, you’ll see the “Set or Change PIN”. Click that and create a PIN that only you will know. Afterwards, go back to the “User Controls” section and tick the checkbox for “Use PIN for purchases”.
Just like almost every website or application on the internet, VSCO is only dangerous for your kids if you fail to give them the knowledge and resources that they need to protect themselves. This is as good time as any to talk to your kids about internet safety and security. Use this opportunity to educate your kids about proper netiquette. Teach them about the dos and don’ts online. Help them to become smarter and wiser users of the internet not only for their safety but also for your peace of mind.